A wise man once said “…in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” As it would appear this does not only apply to just real life but also to Cellar Door Games’ latest creation, Rogue Legacy as you pay the toll troll all your gold, in an effort to beat this heinous castle, only to have your frail life extinguished by a random painting.
Welcome to hell, Welcome to your impending doom, Welcome to Rogue Legacy.
Over the past couple of years the rogue genre has blossomed as more and more gamers look for more challenging gameplay in a marketplace filled with games containing only easy and very easy difficulty levels. It’s true the rogue genre has always contained a punishing difficulty level but that is not the only reason these games have been so successful over the years (although it may be one reason for the resurgence).
From the very moment you pick up your controller and enter into this ever changing labyrinth of a castle you can expect this game will throw everything it has at you. From the minute players walk through that front door they will die… and die… and die, but never fear for someone will always be there to pick up the torch. Like any game that embraces the rogue-like genre, Rogue Legacy puts in place procedurally generated levels that really help keep the game fresh for every time you play as you will always start from the beginning.
Created by Cellar Door Games, Rogue Legacy is the first real retail game the studio has developed and they seem to have set the bar rather high with this one. Rogue Legacy at its heart is a rogue-like game full of humor from the outset, resulting in a game that is equal parts charming as it is challenging. The humor is largely injected through the traits your new successors adopt with some creating purely superficial changes (baldness, Tourettes) where others create substantial alterations in the gameplay (vertigo, near sightedness).
Although starting with your character on the ceiling can be quite a shock the first time it happens, and yes it will put a distinct smirk on your face, but after that you slowly grow tired of the idea and find it is largely an unworkable gameplay mechanic. To be fair the other traits are nowhere near as invasive, even the near and far sighted traits still allow for a workable game albeit a little harder. I feel like the vertigo trait should be rebalanced a little to allow for a fairer challenge because as it stands right now it just creates an unworkable situation offering no benefit from taking it. Maybe there needs to be some incentive to pick a character with vertigo other than to trick your friend.
Considering this one trait was the biggest bone I had to pick with Rogue Legacy it is not hard to see just why this game is a brilliant creation. Cellar Door Games really went all out when they developed Rogue Legacy, they even added in some very interesting persistent upgrade mechanics that add an overarching RPG element to the game that encourages you to grind the gold which in turn gives you even more incentives to pick it up and play.
The upgrade system is deeply rooted in the game and has not just been some throwaway idea but Cellar Door Games have really spent a considerable amount of time balancing it out and actually creating an upgrade system that at the very least feels like it works, even if it can be very disheartening to see some of the upgrade prices.
The upgrade system is a two tier system which combines passive perks and character unlocks with equipable items. Both are unlocked with the gold that you acquire through the level, with the key difference being you must find the equipable items around the castle in random chests make the equipment much more hit or miss. The passive traits and characters are unlocked by upgrading your manor; this for all intents and purposes acts like a talent tree of sorts. Spending gold in different abilities will often open up new options (in the form of wings added to your house) and creates a rather nice visual in the process. Although it can be frustrating to spend a few thousand on a relatively innocuous upgrade to just unlock a new character, but it adds to the challenge.
Rogue Legend includes a whole raft of characters each with their own unique perks and draw backs from the humble all-rounder Paladin to the Miner whose only concern is his gold collection and everything in between. Although they all offer new and interesting ways to the play the game I feel some of the classes begin to come into their own only after you have sunk sufficient money into the upgrades, although this is not necessarily a bad thing.
At the beginning you start with very little and therefore must rely much more on the beefier classes like the barbarian to see you through as the assassin’s initial health are a little low to begin with. I’m sure my competence in the game also increased with the upgrades though so it is very difficult to tell which help more. I’m sure a much more skilled player than I would be able to of made these more unforgiving classes work much better (especially earlier on).
Even with the verity given by the classes, random traits, and procedural generation occasionally Rogue Legacy can feel a little bit of a grind as you try to just gain enough funds to unlock a new sword or upgrade in the hope it will help you further your quest. This, however, is only a transient feeling which is almost entirely down to the random nature of the game as you can have one run in which you earn several thousand gold in just 20 minutes,whilst in stark contrast to this you can have a game just after in which you spend 40 minutes trying to kill unforgiving room after unforgiving room for less than a thousand.
This is one of the best and worse features of the game and is the same in any randomly generated game so is nothing new to fans of this genre, but it does make for an exhausting game from time to time. This creates a truly unlevelled playing field, and one that does not always reward you appropriately and this is the bit that always hurts the most.
Visually Rogue Legacy has a fantastic retro aesthetic with some truly great music to boot that takes players back to games of old —really setting the nostalgia into overdrive. Although the game adopts retro graphics I feel enough time and effort has been put into the visuals to allow the game to completely stand-up on its own and is by no means an excuse for lower resolution graphics. The visuals are vibrant and very enough through the areas creating distinctive sections of the game each with their own unique theme.
Mechanically Rogue Legacy feels very well put together and I have yet to really find any issue with the control system and thankfully it has full controller support. Personally I much prefer using a controller for these games, however the keyboard controls work just about as well as you would expect and makes for a very enjoyable game.
Although not a perfect game Rogue Legacy does what it does well and manages to create a rather compelling game that mixes Rogue elements with RPG. There is also a story in the game, although it does often feel a little side-lined but to be honest I didn’t find this a detriment and in a game like this. You want to be constantly fighting and discovering things, not scrolling through pages of text making this bare-bones approach much more favorable.
For any fans of Rogue-like games or those just interested in a more challenging hack and slash platformer Rogue Legacy should be just what the doctors has ordered, offering a suitable challenge for a very reasonable price of just $15 from Steam, Desura, Gamersgate, Good Old Games, OnLive, or via the developers site. Just be warned this is not an easy game and will require a lot of your time to progress even a little.
If you would like to find out more information about Cellar Door Games be sure to check out their official website for all the latest.
[review pros=”Strong gameplay mechanics, great visuals, high replayability, great sense of humour, expansive gameplay ” cons=”Some traits a little unbalanced, random nature of the game can make it feel like a grind” score=90]
A retail copy of the game was provided from the developers for the purpose of this review.